Playing a Black Friday matinee in Boston, the New York Rangers must improve their physicality in front of Henrik Lundqvist.
New York Rangers (16-4-2, 34 pts)
Boston Bruins (12-8-1, 25 pts)
Today, 1:00 PM on NBC, RSN
TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
By Robby Sabo
Disappointment remains the unenthusiastic keyword surrounding the New York Rangers locker-room at the moment.
Hosting their equals in Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, Henrik Lundqvist was pulled in a bitter 5-1 lopsided defeat. Adding insult onto the fact they were just dominated in the third period in front of their home fans with Price pulled due to injury, the Rangers allowed the Habs to take the Eastern Conference lead with ease.
Lundqvist was pulled after the fourth goal against. That’s right, the man who leads the entire league with a sparkling 9.39 save percentage and 1.94 goals against average was yanked on his home ice.
It was certainly no feat fit for The King.
Nevertheless, Hank wasn’t the major culprit. Instead, the glaring weakness and issue coming out of the horrific loss dealt directly with the Blueshirts shaky blueline.
Captain Ryan McDonagh was dreadful (as he continues his under-the-radar bad play). His giveaway to begin the third period allowed role player Devante Smith-Pelly to tally his second goal of the game just 17-seconds in the final frame. It made the score 3-1 and blew the game wide open.
Other than the untimely sloppiness with the puck, the most alarming weakness came down to the Rangers inability to clear the front of the net.
This must change. Physicality is needed on the blueline, and it’s painfully obvious New York doesn’t possess this attribute right now.
Two guys who struggle more than others are Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle.
Yandle is an offensive defense. We know this. What he lacks in defensive toughness he makes up for with heady transition starting with the puck. And although many will argue he’s not doing his job on the offensive end – being demoted to the second power play unit – the Rangers must live with the guy (contractually, Anthony Duclair).
Furthermore, considering Yandle has been OK at times on the defensive end, the real issue lies with his semi-partner, Dan Boyle.
Boyle isn’t the two-time All-Star from yesteryear. He’s a 39-year old hockey player on his last legs. Moreover, he’s not big. He’s never been a guy who can play that physical style the aging D-Man type like Chris Pronger or Chris Chelios could play as they wound down their careers. When Boyle is on the ice when the opposition is cycling and working the puck, there’s a good chance Lundqvist will have to bail the team out.
A solution lies from up in the press-box. His name is Dylan McIlrath.
Admittedly, Rangers’ fans have overrated this guy. Though he’s a former first-round pick, he hasn’t truly developed the agile and quickness part of the game needed to flourish at this level. Speedy forwards run circles around this guy.
However, he’s a much better alternative to Boyle, and to only see the 23-year old kid participate in four games this season, brings the word “crime” to mind.
At one point in his career, young Chris Kreider had issues keeping up with the mental aspect of the NHL game as well. We all remember as John Tortorella continuously battled his own mind in playing the kid.
Eventually though, through experience, Kreider found what it took. He gained enough time and wherewithal to play at the NHL level.
Alain Vigneault must start giving Dylan McIlrath that same chance.
This doesn’t mean playing the youngster every game, it just means playing him more than once every two weeks. Get the split of playing time with Boyle up to a more reasonable 50/50 level. Or, at the very least, play him once a week.
When the Rangers have McIlrath inserted into the lineup it does multiple things. First off, it gives them an enforcer who could fight at a moment’s notice. Secondly, it provides more youth. Lastly, and most importantly, it gives Lundqvist much more needed protection in front of the net.
No, the kid isn’t a Hall of Famer. He isn’t the savior for the organization.
What he is though, is a perfect fit for the non-aggressive defensive core this squad currently shovels out on the ice every night.
He fits this lineup like a glove. Get the old man out and young kid on.
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